Last year was certainly a landmark year in the fight against climate change, with the UK becoming the first major economy in the world to legally commit to reducing all its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. Whilst this ambitious target is promising, it is going to take a lot of hard work to make it achievable, and refurbishment within the built environment is one area in particular that needs to be prioritised.
There are an estimated 1.83 million non-domestic premises in England and Wales. With 60% of these expected to still be in use by 2050, improving the efficiency of our existing building stock is a clear-cut way to drastically reduce emissions and set us on the right path to meet the country’s net zero goals.
What environmental impact could refurbishing our existing buildings have?
The built environment is responsible for approximately 40% of the UK’s CO2 emissions, with non-domestic properties such as schools, hospitals, businesses and warehouses accounting for around 17% of this. A large proportion of these emissions are generated by the energy consumed during the use of the buildings, in particular heating, which in 2015 accounted for 69% of all operational emissions.
Therefore, reducing the energy consumption of our existing building stock through carefully considered refurbishment will be key to achieving our environmental targets. Research done by Low Carbon Innovation Coordination Group (LCICG), including the Carbon Trust in 2013 showed that upgrading non-domestic buildings so that they are energy efficient, and/or making use of low carbon technologies, could help the UK achieve by 2050:
- Carbon emissions savings of 86MtCO2
- Potential energy cost savings worth £13 billion
- Export opportunities worth £1.7 billion from the development of innovative products
The most effective and long-lasting way to do this is to take a fabric first approach– upgrading the thermal efficiency of building envelope constructions by considering key elements such as insulation choice, airtightness, detailing and limiting issues such as thermal bridging. This will help to reduce the initial energy demand of the building and can also make it more viable to meet the remaining demand with renewable energy.
Are insulated panels suitable for fabric refurbishment applications?
Insulated panels are a great option for refurbishing building envelopes, whether through over cladding or replacing existing elements, for a number of reasons. From a practical point of view, they are low weight, so have minimal impact on existing structures and help to support a quick installation which minimises disruption (see offsite and speed of construction to learn more). They are also available in a wide range of colours and profiles which can lift the appearance of tired older buildings, improving the built environment for those living and working in it. However, it is their proven thermal performance which make them an obvious choice for many non-domestic refurbishment projects looking to improve their energy efficiency.
For example, a 100mm thick insulated roof panel with a PIR insulating core can readily achieve a U-value as low as 0.20 W/m2K and an air leakage rate of 5m3/hr/m2 or better. These figures mean much less heat is lost through the roof, leading to less energy consumption and reduced heating bills. Such systems typically have a life expectancy of thirty years or more, helping to both ensure long-term peace of mind that the building will continue to perform as expected and can also play a vital role in futureproofing against likely changes to key legislation such as the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard (MEES).
The high performing systems can also help to attain a good EPC or Display Energy Certificate (DEC) rating, or contribute to the awarding of credits under desirable sustainable construction assessments such as BREEAM and LEED. These can all make assets more attractive to property buyers and renters.
What are the sustainable benefits of insulated panel systems?
Whilst it is not accurate to state categorically that any generic construction product is ‘sustainable’, insulated panels certainly have a significant contribution to make towards an ethos of sustainable construction on a number of levels:
- The high thermal performance and air tightness of insulated panel constructions help to reduce energy demand from heating and cooling
- Panels are delivered to site as single-piece units, reducing the number of deliveries to site, and enabling construction times to be reduced by up to 60%, with resultant savings of fuel, power, energy, water and waste
- Insulated panels are extremely durable, leading to long-term performance and reducing the need for replacement. This not only saves on maintenance costs but also on any associated resources and energy use
- Insulated panel roofs can also be designed to incorporate natural daylighting or be optimised for the inclusion of renewable technologies such as solar PV systems
- More thermally efficient buildings are often healthier and more comfortable to inhabit, helping to improve wellbeing and retention of staff.
- Help in combating the effects of global warming, which has a large social cost
- Knock-on effect on building occupiers’ own carbon accounting – a better performing building means a lower carbon-intensity product.
- Increased energy efficiency in buildings brings immediate energy cost savings for end users, which carry on long-term with minimal maintenance requirements
- Insulated panels often have a much thinner construction than standard wall build ups, helping to maximise useable space. Increased capacity can lead to higher rental prices or business efficiency
- They support fast track building, allowing businesses and services to get up and running sooner
- Buildings which have demonstrable energy efficiency can demand higher sale and rental prices
- More attractive and comfortable facilities can also be a key driver for employment
- Panelised systems can also be supplied with a long-term performance guarantee for ongoing peace of mind
Building for the future
With global temperature increases needing to be below 1.5oC to prevent further environmental damage, countries and companies need to work together to set targets which help us reduce our overall impact as quickly as possible. Refurbishing existing buildings not only benefits us in terms of meeting carbon reduction targets, it also helps to extend their lifespans, ensures they are better adapted for future needs, and is both cost and time efficient.
Visit our insulated panels in refurbishment page to see more examples of EPIC-member panels used for refurb projects. If you would like more advice or information on creating a bespoke solution, you can access our members’ contact details here.